The year 2014 started with a mix of emotions, milestones and roadblocks as I prepared for the official marathon of Huntington Beach, California - Surf City. Yes, there is an on-going battle between Huntington Beach and NorCal’s Santa Cruz over the claim to the name but for now it resides here. ’Nough said.
In 2013 I had what I thought was a fantastic year of running. I stayed in marathon shape nearly the entire year which let me drop in on a marathon, on a whim, which is quite an accomplishment if you understand how much training and preparation is involved in getting ready for a 26.2-mile run. I completed eight marathons that year, the most in one year in my running career thus far. And I finished nearly all of them feeling good, if not worn out. Over the past six or so years I had been running injury free. I thought my success was due to changes I had made in running shoes, progressively moving to thinner, lighter and more flexible shoes. I was a student of the book “Born to Run” and was reaping its rewards; or so I thought.
I ran most of 2013 in a mix of Skechers and Inov-8 shoes with zero drop from toe to heel and very thin cushioning. I even ran several shorter distances in XeroShoes, basically Jesus sandals with a string to hold them to your feet. I have a very natural running stride; I don’t heel strike and my form involves lots of achilles and foot flex giving me lots of natural injury protection. I exited 2013 injury free like all the earlier years and was feeling very confident about 2014. I exited that year having run 47 marathons, leaving just three until the big 5-0 which I had already planned out to be the original marathon from Marathon to Athens, Greece. That race in is November leaving me an entire year to get in two marathons and do lots of cross training.
My early training in January was feeling good as the miles were coming along strongly. My new Inov-8 shoes I received for Christmas felt lighter than air and I ran that way too. Until early February. It started on a 16-mile training run during which I started to have pain in my lower right calf muscle. During long runs its typical for various muscles in my body to wake up and alert me to their presence but then calm down and keep doing their job. That’s what I thought was going on here but the calf kept talking to me. It wasn’t the kind of pain that screams injury, just the occasional bite that says soreness. What worried me more was when the calf kept talking to me after the run and the next day too. Rolling it, stretching it and ice weren’t doing the trick so I decided to up the prevention with a few rounds of physical therapy. The therapist concluded that it was muscle weakness, not in the calf but in many of the small muscles surrounding it and gave me a few exercises to fix it. I asked her to look at my left achilles as well, as it had developed a lump and was a bit sore too. Needless to say i kept up the running with what I thought was little ill effect but the problem wasn’t getting better.
So with just a week before my first marathon of the year, I upped the therapy again to a sports massage from Sports Medicine Institute in Palo Alto. I got turned on to this clinic during my first year of Team in Training and they worked miracles on my body as it adjusted to the marathon distance.
The therapist who took me on, gave me a thorough leg massage which hurt a lot (you expect that) and the leg did seem to feel better afterwards. But the next day I now had pain radiating up my leg. No longer was the calf the problem but the pain kept moving from my thigh muscles, to the achilles, to the knee and back again. And the pain level was definitely above the “saying hello” stage. Worse still, I now had weakness in the leg too. I didn’t know what to do and was running out of time to get another therapy appointment. So I kept rolling it, stretching it and icing as I prepared for my flight to Los Angeles.
After a couple days the pain subsided but I still had some weakness in the leg, so I pulled back the running significantly in Southern California hoping rest would cure me and if not, I would take it easy on the marathon to ensure I didn’t get injured. But for the first time since my very first marathon, I had a seed of doubt as to whether I would finish.
After a few days of work in LA and Orange Country, a drove down to Huntington Beach after picking my wife up from the airport and we checked into the Hyatt Regency beach resort for race weekend. This is a fantastic hotel right across the PCH from the beach. The race expo and starting line are literally right in front of this resort. My good friend John and his wife joined us for this race and we hit the expo together which had a great beach theme. The night before we kept the beach theme going with dinner at Duke’s the Hawaiian restaurant chain named for the famous surfer.
The following morning the race began under an early morning fog. It was cool and there was a light breeze - perfect for running. The crowd along the beach was smaller than some of the bigger races in the nation which made for a clean and simple start. We kicked off along the PCH in the pre-dawn morning. I took it easy to start, torn between fearing a tough day and hoping for the best. The course turned inland to give us a view of Huntington Beach away from the ocean. It was a great mix of local stores and restaurants, condo complexes and charming homes with high windows hoping for a view of the water. As we kept going inland we came onto the Golden West College campus, something I didn't know was here and thus I didn’t expect to see. It’s mix of 70’s style buildings and ample parks was a great setting for a run. The trails were thinner here but the racers had spread out so that most of the time you were no more than 2-3 people thick - good enough for the trails. By this point the sun was rising, the fog had lifted yet it was still cool and comfortable. The runners were in a good mood as many were thanking the supporters and sharing good wishes for each other. To my surprise, my calf and the rest of my body were protest free.
From here the race looped through some nice neighborhoods some small inclines and past some quaint shopping areas before working its way back to the PCH. Still no physical ailments and as such my mood greatly improved. By mile 20 I began to tire, however and my pace declined quite noticeably. I didn’t let it bother me until my left achilles decided to say hello in a rather loud way. I kept this slower pace hoping to work through the pain. It subsided as usual and my calf took over the talking, then my quads, then my hamstring. Each in turn decided now would be the time to greet me and protest the distance as if each was passing the baton of complaint to one another. By mile 24, however, all had said their peace and settled in for the final miles. I crossed the line a bit slower than my usual marathon, sore but not broken.
The sun was high in the sky at this time but kept a cool in the air, making for a great feeling of both accomplishment and pride to be in this gorgeous place with the people I love, doing what defines me. I cheered John across the line with Reesa by my side.
After the race, and a good bit of stretching, plus a quick dip in the ocean to ice-bath the legs, I was sore but feeling good.
I had made an appointment back at SMI for the Thursday after the race, fearing I would need it given my declining health prior to the race. The Monday after the marathon, I woke up feeling fantastic (despite the Super Bowl that took place that Sunday night; we won’t talk about that). I had client meetings in Orange County that day before my flight home and despite the tough run was walking fine. No marathon shuffle, no protesting knee and no pain from my achilles. One prevailing thought rest in my head: can a marathon cure all ills?
So it had seemed.